Discuss some of the good and bad qualities found in society in "The Killers" by Ernest Hemingway.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Killers” in 1927.  Although no actual violence is portrayed, Hemingway makes the reader feel that Al and Max, the killers, could explode at any time.  The story takes place in a small town café in the early evening.  The narration is third person. 

The descriptions of the characters give only the bare minimum of information. Even Nick Adams, the young man that steps up to warn Ole Andreson, has few details provided for his character despite the fact that he might be called the protagonist. 

The men who come to kill Andreson have few redeeming qualities. They represent the facet of man that has no conscience and willingly kills or hurts for pleasure.  Max and Al are loud, rude, and sarcastic.  Everything is prey for their sardonic dialogue.  Obviously, these men have seen and been involved in violence.  The only good thing that comes from their visit to Henry’s Lunchroom is that they do not kill George, Sam, or Nick. It is surprising since any of these men could identify them.

When the killers give up on Andreson showing up to eat, they leave.  Nick decides that he will go and warn Andreson. 

‘I was up at Henry’s’ Nick said, ‘and two fellows came in and tied up me and the cook, and they said they were going to kill you.’

It sounded silly when he said it.

Nick represents the qualities of man that are admirable.  He sees someone who needs help; therefore, Nick is willing to place himself in harm’s way to assist someone else. He learns that Andreson knows that someone is looking for him.  Apparently, this problem has been ongoing.  As a former prize fighter, this may be the reason that someone wants to kill him.  Only speculation concerning the reasons can be drawn since Hemingway did not give the details for the contract killing.

Nick becomes the hero in the story.  Despite the killers possibly seeing him at Andresons, Nick wants to warn the man. Putting his own life in danger does not seem to worry Nick; however, he is concerned about the other man’s life.

His experience with evil makes Nick a different person than in the beginning of the story.  The other men who have been hardened by life are unfazed by the attempted murder.  On the other hand, Nick feels it is his responsibility to help the targeted man.  Nothing really upsets Nick until he gets a look at "the big man lying on the bed." If a huge man like Andreson can be intimidated by the killers, than Nick is ready to move on.